The Topaz Museum Board is working on a strategy to determine how the Wakasa Monument will be displayed. Implementation of recommendations from the National Park Service and stone conservator John Lambert are nearly complete. Planning issues include: permanent location, interpretation, and budgeting. The Wakasa Monument is currently sheltered in the Topaz Museum courtyard after being relocated from the Topaz site in 2021.

On April 11, 1943, James Hatsuaki Wakasa was shot and killed by a military sentry as he was walking his dog near the fence. His killing was ruled as “justified” during the soldier’s court martial military trial. Nearly 2,000 Topaz incarcerees attended Mr. Wakasa’s funeral. In June, after friends erected a monument in his memory, they were ordered to remove it. Its location was uncertain until 2020, when a hand-drawn map was found in the National Archives and two archaeologists taking measurements from the map located the monument near the fence where Mr. Wakasa died.

The stone is unmarked and weighs about a ton. It looks like ordinary rocks brought from the mountains to the west of Topaz, except it is quite large. The discovery of this important artifact is significant, and discussions have begun about its future including the production of a documentary film.
In July 2021, the archaeologists published a series of detailed reports about the Wakasa Monument, including its exact location. Seldom do archaeologists give the address and the GPS coordinates of sensitive objects, due to the risk of defacement or looting. In the midst of the Covid anti-Asian racism and previous acts of vandalism at the Topaz incarceration site, the Topaz Museum Board of Directors feared for the safety of the Wakasa Monument and acted swiftly to move the stone from its unprotected location at Topaz to the Topaz Museum courtyard in Delta where it is enclosed and secure.

Some people who had been involved in the discussions about the monument’s future were outraged the Museum had acted without their input and formed the Wakasa Memorial Committee (WMC), claiming to represent the broader community and demanding equal partnership in future plans for the Wakasa Monument and its original site at the Topaz concentration camp.

The Museum Board has effusively apologized for removing the monument without notifying stakeholders, explaining that moving the monument was solely a question of protection.

A series of meetings have been held involving representatives from the NPS, the State Historic Preservation Office in Utah, the Topaz Museum Board, the WMC, and then-State Senator Jani Iwamoto. Those meetings led to the NPS report and an assessment and report from John Lambert, a stone conservator.

In April 2023, a two-day event commemorating the 80th anniversary of Mr. Wakasa’s killing was held in Utah, beginning in Salt Lake City with an update about the monument conservation and preservation and a presentation on Mr. Wakasa’s life in Japan before immigrating to the U.S. The following morning there was a ceremony at the Topaz site where he was killed and an afternoon ceremony at the Topaz Museum where people offered origami cranes during a procession that walked by the Wakasa Monument. More information about the Wakasa Monument can be found at the Friends of Topaz site.Friends of Topaz site.

Topaz Community Outreach Project

The Topaz Community Outreach Project’s public outreach project was a national community survey to submit ideas and opinions on the future of the Wakasa Monument and ways to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the killing of James Hatsuaki Wakasa. The Project launched in June 2022 and involved multiple engagement and communication approaches. The primary methods for public engagement were in-person and virtual meetings, and an online survey. Each of these efforts is summarized in the final report which can be downloaded HERE.

In total more than 450 community members participated in one or more project activities.

Topaz Museum exterior

Photo: Brian Buroker

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